A lesson in caring from my grandmother

PUBLISHED: 09:43 08 June 2018

Volunteering: there are scores of good causes out there that need someone like you to make a difference, says Nick Conrad. So what's stopping you?

Volunteering: there are scores of good causes out there that need someone like you to make a difference, says Nick Conrad. So what's stopping you?


If we want a better society then we should roll up our sleeves and help, says Nick Conrad.

A sizeable, yet often under-appreciated ‘army’ is stationed in Norfolk. This force comprises of tens of thousands of men and women willingly deployed for the good of our communities.

This army, which I value hugely, is the legion of volunteers who give up their time for the good of Norfolk and the 850,000 people who call our county home. It is about time we celebrated their significance and highlighted the outstanding value they bring to all our lives.

For the past two years I’ve proudly hosted the EDP’s Stars of Norfolk Awards. Every year the judges sift through hundreds of amazing nominations highlighting outstanding unpaid work. I’m delighted that BBC Radio Norfolk too has launched, this week, an award to focus on and celebrate volunteers. The awards encourage listeners to go online and nominate the people from the county whom they consider have made an impact through their volunteering.

I cannot think of a single sector in society that doesn’t benefit from the work of these selfless individuals. Our NHS, the arts, youth work, environment, heritage and so many more all rely to some extent on people who donate their time. So, what is the monetary worth? If we could attribute a value to the work undertaken by Norfolk’s volunteers the figure would be sizeable. Many who fill these vital positions are unsung heroes. When you consider the positive impact they have in our communities, it’s only right we loudly applaud their achievements.

My grandmother was a serial volunteer. She appears to be on every single committee in Sheringham. Churches, RNLI, U3A, youth drama, girl guides, ‘Meals on Wheels,’ and so many more. I used to wonder why, when retired, she’d packed her diary so full.

I used to be dragged along. At first I’d moan then, unwillingly, confess I rather enjoyed meeting all the wonderful people you’d come into contact with. One of my first memories was sitting behind the shop in the Sheringham RNLI helping my grandmother to tot up the till and work out how much money had been made for the charity. I remember she would always buy the odd pencil, postcard or pad to boost the coffers. She established and ran The Smugglers children’s acting group for 40 years, starting with the Girl Guides then opening it up to youngsters across Norfolk. The shows were never polished however they did offer hundreds of youngsters the chance to act.

My grandmother now has dementia, and is so fantastically supported by the good folk of her home town. It’s like a warm bath enveloping the body, offering a soothing comfort - that’s what the local community in Sheringham has offered my grandmother. Her journey through dementia has been protracted and difficult, but I get great comfort from the concern and respect offered to a lady who was the architect of so much that was good in my town. It began with friendly faces reuniting my grandmother with her frequently-misplaced bicycle. The story is concluding with dementia music workshops and support groups run by volunteers.

David Cameron’s much-lauded ‘Big Society’ was established long before any political spin was attributed to it. In our rural towns, the sense of community and belonging has isustained a spirit of supporting one another. In my experience, this is more prevalent in rural areas. Much of the good work which has had a real impact comes from the volunteer sector.

But we need to move to a position of action. I’m fed up with the moaners and groaners who slate Britain and our public services, but would never dream of lifting a finger to actually help out.

Volunteering is portrayed as being unselfish and community-spirited, but I have no guilt in dangling the self-serving motivation of betterment too. We should aspire to build the communities we wish to grow old in. It’s a fantastic way to help build a better Britain. I have seen first-hand how powerful giving up a little time can be. My grandmother has benefited from the reflective concern that she offered to so many others when she was in a position to do so. As you sow, so shall you reap.

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